Guernsey, 1814-1914 : migration in a modernising society


Guernsey is a densely populated island lying 27 miles off the Normandy coast. In 1814 it remained largely French-speaking, though it had been politically British for 600 years. The island's only town, St Peter Port (which in 1814 accommodated over half the population) had during the previous century developed a thriving commercial sector with strong links to England, whose cultural influence it began to absorb. The rural hinterland was, by contrast, characterised by a traditional autarkic regime more redolent of pre- industrial France. By 1914, the population had doubled, but St Peter Port's share had fallen to 43 percent. The countryside had undergone an economic transformation, and subsistence farming was replaced by quarrying and commercial horticulture for export to Britain. The country parishes had become more open to the outside world, but their linguistic and cultural distinctiveness was eroded, and, in terms of anglicisation, they began to converge with the town. Non-Islanders never comprised less than 20 percent of the population 1841-1901. Most migrants came from England, with a late nineteenth-century influx from France. There was substantial rentier migration, but the majority of immigrants were artisans or labourers. English migrants formed the basis of an Anglo-Guernsey proletarian class which facilitated insular economic growth by fulfilling a demand for manpower which natives, more interested in landholding, were unable to satisfy. This class came to predominate within St Peter Port, and, to a lesser extent, the northern quarrying parishes. Prior to World War I, however, it remained virtually absent from the four purely rural south-western parishes. Anglicisation nevertheless took hold in these parishes, as it did elsewhere. Migrants should not therefore be seen as the primary cause of Guernsey's cultural and linguistic transformation, but as an aspect themselves of the wider process of economic modernisation and cultural homogenisation affecting Europe as a whole. Pre existing political links with Britain virtually guaranteed that such a process would result in Guernsey's cultural, as well as economic, integration with Britain.






Crossan, Rose-Marie Anne, “Guernsey, 1814-1914 : migration in a modernising society,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed May 20, 2024,